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Web Development

Content Management – A bewildering choice – Part 1

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A CMS is a way of building a web-site that allows for visitors to a site to make changes to the content of the site, without the need of a third-party webmaster. The letters stand for ‘Content Management System’, which speaks for itself.Content Management Systems

It is one thing to create a web-site and configure it correctly, deploy it and secure it, which is the job of a professional. It is quite another to edit, add, delete or otherwise change the content of the pages. It should never be necessary for a webmaster or any third party to be involved in this process, if the site is built correctly, in the first place.

Using a CMS, a site owner, contributor, editor or even members of the public, with permission, may change the content of parts of the site, using a relatively simple, web-based editor that appears in their browser. Pages can be added or deleted, text can be changed, images can be uploaded and added to pages or albums and even multimedia, such as video clips, can be inserted into the site, with user-friendly ease.

The biggest problem for a novice site-builder is to decide which of the many CMSs, available, is right for the purpose. At last count, there were at least 1100 different systems, publicly available and, also, a great number of proprietary systems, built by private companies, for their own use. A dilemma! Which is best?

The answer to that is that it depends upon the sort of site that is being built. In the first place, some are designed to work on Windows server systems. These are usually known as .NET CMSs, because of the name that Microsoft gives to its programming methodology. Others, known as Open-source CMSs, are designed to work on the more popular Linux servers, known as LAMP (Linux operating system, Apache web-server, mySQL database and PHP scripting language). In addition, there a large number of costly professional systems, used by large corporations.

Almost all these CMSs use a database to store the actual contents of pages and other information. Although there are a number of specialized and costly database systems available, the most commonly used are the aforementioned mySQL, for Open Source CMSs and MS SQL (also known as TSQL), for Windows based CMSs.

I want to skip over proprietary systems, because they are usually costly – and why spend money, when it’s usually not necessary? I also want to skip over the Microsoft systems, because, in the long run, they also tend to cost money and, anyway, Microsoft can hype their own systems, perfectly well. Instead, I want to concentrate on the Open source, systems, which are mostly free of charge, community supported and, now that they have been around for some time, very powerful and stable.

Joomla LogoThree such CMSs stand out, head and shoulders above the rest. They are Joomla, WordPress and Drupal. Personally, I have had a great deal of experience with Joomla, having built many sites with it, including my own company website. This blog is built with WordPress and I have a certain amount of experience with that system, also.

In passing, I should also give a mention to TYPO3, which claims that it “offers full flexibility and extendability while featuring an accomplished set of ready-made interfaces, functions and modules”. As I have, as yet, no experience with this system, I leave it out for now, but its following in the community, is also quite extensive.Wordpress logo

In the Summer, I was in the process of building a Joomla site, for a customer, but the work was put into suspension, while the client’s management went through some large changes, during which time even their original, old-fashioned static site was taken off-air, leaving them with no web-site, at all. When they finally got back to me, the new management asked me to build the site, using Drupal, with which I had no experience.Drupal logo

They had their reasons and the customer is king, so I set about putting a Drupal arrow in my quiver of skills and began to study the system and construct the site for this client. After a few days of study and experimentation, I reached a point of sudden ‘enlightenment’. Drupal thinking is quite different from the thinking required to work with other CMSs, that I have experience of. It is far more complex, technical and, in many ways, more powerful than Joomla! or WordPress, for example.

Drupal seems to be built by techies for techies. Working with Drupal, one doesn’t find too many automated systems, where, at a click or two, an entire process is completed. For example, to extend the functionality of this system, one adds ‘modules’, by uploading the contents of a compressed file, downloaded from the Drupal modules site, to a specific directory, using FTP or a similar file transfer method. Then the module has to be activated and configured, in the administration system. Ordinary users do not know this methodology and would require a web-master to do this for them.Contrast this with the easiest system to use, WordPress, where most such things can be done, within the interface, with a few clicks.

Similarly upgrading a module or other extension, in WordPress, requires a single click on a link called ‘upgrade automatically’. In Joomla!, it is necessary to go to the Install/Uninstall interface and browse for the new or upgraded extension. Then a click on a button, marked ‘Upload file & Install’, does the job automatically. With Drupal, the process is far more technical.

In the next part of this multi-part blog entry, we shall be discussing the relative power of these three systems, the user-control, permissions systems, template structure and more.

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